White Marlin Open Seeks Judge’s Ruling On First-Place Marlin, $2.8M In Prize Money

OCEAN CITY — White Marlin Open officials last week formally asked the Worcester County Circuit Court to rule on an alleged rule violation that could strip the first-place winner of its record $2.8 million payout and make the first-place tuna winner’s final payout in excess of $3 million.

Last week, White Marlin Open officials announced a potential rules violation could disqualify the winner in the white marlin division, a 76.5-pounder caught by angler Phil Heasley on the Kallianassa out of Naples, Fla. Heasley’s 76.5-pound white marlin turned out to be the only qualifier all week in the category and was awarded a tournament-record $2.8 million because the Kallianassa was entered across the board in all of the added entry levels.

However, tournament officials announced last Tuesday there appeared to be possible rules violations with Heasley’s winning white marlin and the $2.8 million in prize money was being withheld. The other shoe dropped late last Friday when WMO officials filed a Complaint for Interpleader in Worcester County Circuit Court, essentially asking a judge to intervene and decide first if there were rules violations committed by Heasley and the Kallianassa, and secondly, if there were violations, how best should the $2.8 million in white marlin division prize money be distributed to the winners in several other categories.

Boiled down to its simplest terms, the complaint asserts Heasley, Captain David Morris and mates Kyle Bohannon and Joseph Hagen, the only four people on the Kallianassa on Aug. 9 when the winning white was caught, each failed the requisite polygraph tests after administrators determined they were deceptive in their answers to some questions regarding the time of the catch. Per tournament rules, any place-winner with prize money of $50,000 or more is required to submit to polygraph examinations on the Saturday after the tournament has concluded.

More specifically, the Interpleader asserts the time of the catch of the winning 76.5-pound white marlin on Tuesday, Aug. 9, was altered on the official catch report submitted at the scale that afternoon. The official catch report appears to show an initial time of 8:15 a.m. was entered, but then altered to 9:05 a.m. Per tournament rules, which are clearly posted and carefully reviewed during the pre-tournament captain’s meeting, participating boats cannot put lines in the water before 8:30 a.m.

A Worcester County Circuit Court judge will now decide whether there were rules violations committed by the Kallianassa and if those violations merit disqualification. If so, the record $2.8 million in prize money would be distributed to the other named defendants in the case, which include the winners in several other categories. The biggest winner could turn out to be the first-place tuna caught by angler Rich Kosztyu on the Hubris, a 236-pounder initially awarded $767,091 in prize money. Based on all of the calculations of added entry levels and the appropriate distribution of the winning white marlin’s prize money, the Hubris could be awarded an additional $2.3 million, putting its final total in excess of $3 million.

There is some precedent for the tournament and the Interpleader process, but the stakes weren’t quite as high. In 2007, after disputes over polygraph test anomalies, officials turned to the Circuit Court to determine the winners in the blue marlin category that year.

“By doing this, the tournament directors seek to have a formal court proceeding in which a judge will determine the issues as to which angler or anglers will receive the prize,” an official statement from the White Marlin Open released last Friday reads. “The sole purpose in filing the Interpleader with the court is to preserve the integrity of the tournament, its rules and awards, and do to the circumstances of the matter at issue, the directors and tournament judges believed that the best way of resolving all controversies was to seek a judicial determination of the matter. This way, a judge can consider the matter in its entirety and make an official judgment as to the award of the prize.”

Last week when the news of a possible disqualification spread, many on social media suggested the tournament directors were withholding the money for their own gain, but WMO officials in their statement last week made it clear they had nothing to gain financially, regardless of how the Circuit Court judge determined the outcome.

“The White Marlin Open does not share in, or receive any portion of the award, no matter to whom it is awarded, nor does it receive any portion of the money paid into court,” the statement reads. “It has monetary interest in the proceeds of the prize money.”

Deception Alleged

According to the Interpleader, Heasley and Captain David Morris were administered polygraph examinations on the Saturday after the tournament and there were issues with some of their answers. The court documents suggest Heasley was deceptive and took countermeasures on some of the questions during the polygraph exam. When Heasley and Morris did not pass the polygraph tests on Aug. 13, a second battery of tests were administered to Heasley and the two mates last Monday, Aug. 22, with similar results.

Heasley was asked a series of questions during the second polygraph examination including, “Did you have any lines in the water before 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 9? Did you catch the fish before 8:30 a.m. on August 9? Did you pass the sea buoy before 4 a.m. on August 9? Did you have any assistance in reeling in the fish on August 9? Did you catch the fish by any other means than fishing pole and line? Have you been truthful in answering all these questions?”

According to the second polygraph administrator, Heasley was deceptive on three of the questions including “Did you pass the sea buoy before 4 a.m. on August 9, did you have any assistance in reeling in the fish on August 9 and have you been truthful in answering all these questions?”

The polygraph tests for the two mates on the boat indicated the mates were deceptive on a couple of questions including “Did the angler have any assistance in reeling in the fish on August 9?”

“Heasley, Morris, Bohannon and Hagen were the only individuals on defendant Heasley’s vessel when he caught the white marlin that is the subject of these proceedings,” court documents read. “Between the two polygraph examinations administered by Examiner [Paul] Carey and the other three examinations administered by Examiner [David] Saneman, not one person on defendant’s Heasley’s vessel passed a polygraph examination.”

According to court documents, in his pre-test interview, mate Kyle Bohannon initially indicated the Kallianassa had put lines in the water on Monday, the day before the winning white was caught, at 8 a.m., which Bohannon quickly retracted and indicated “it was 8:30 a.m. or whatever the rules indicated.” That apparent slip of the tongue, even though he was referring to Monday and not the day the winning white marlin was caught, raised a red flag of sorts for tournament officials.

“Upon reading Examiner Saneman’s report of Bohannon’s polygraph examination, the content of Bohannon’s pre-test interview as it related to the comment made regarding the time at which individuals on board the ‘Kallianassa’ put their fishing lines in the water on Monday, August 8, caught the attention of tournament officials and caused tournament officials to review the official White Marlin Open catch report submitted by Heasley and Morris on Tuesday, August 9, the day Heasley caught the white marlin that is the subject of these proceedings,” the complaint for interpleader reads. “A closer review of the catch report caused tournament officials to realize that the time written down for when the subject white marlin was caught by defendant Heasley appeared to have been altered. Specifically, it appeared that although the time written down was initially ‘8:15 a.m.’, it had been subsequently altered to read ‘9:05’ before it was submitted to tournament officials.”

According to court documents, upon reviewing the circumstances, tournament officials determined on Aug. 22 that Heasley and the Kallianassa would not receive the prize money. That evening, Heasley was advised that he, the captain or either of the two mates had not passed any of the polygraph examinations and, as a result, Heasley was not going to receive the prize money for catching the first place white marlin.

Boat Responds To Concerns

It’s now up to a judge to decide if any violations were committed, but Heasley and the Kallianassa crew denied any wrongdoing in an official statement released last Thursday, the night before the Complaint for Interpleader was filed in Circuit Court.

“In response to a ‘perceived to have committed’ allegation against the Kallianassa, the winner of the 2016 White Marlin Open held in Ocean City, Md., its owner regrets that there is any ambiguity surrounding its successful participation in the tournament,” the statement reads. “The owner, captain and crew adamantly state that they have followed all tournament rules and regulations without exception and have unequivocally committed no wrongdoing.”

Heasley maintains the Kallianassa will be cleared when the all of the facts are known.

“The Kallianassa’s excellent crew and superb captain have always maintained the highest levels of integrity and they will be vindicated and walking tall in the fishing community,” said Heasley.

If a judge does determine rules were violated and disqualifies the Kallianassa, there could be a major shakeup in the distribution of the $2.8 million in prize money with each of the 13 other named defendants possibly getting a stake.

“The remaining named defendants are stakeholders in this litigation if Heasley is determined to be disqualified from receiving the prize money for the first place white marlin, as they would all benefit from receiving a portion of the prize money that would have been paid to Heasley had he his passed his polygraph examinations,” the interpleader reads.

The one and only blue marlin that qualified during the tournament, a 790-pounder with a severed tail weighed by angler Jim Conway on the “Get Reel” would gain another $254,620, nearly doubling its $258,995 already awarded and bringing its total to $513,615. The biggest gainer could be the first-place tuna, a 236.5-pounder caught by angler Kosztyu on the “Hubris.” The “Hubris” was already awarded $767,091 and because it ponied up in all of the added entry levels, it could gain an additional $2.3 million, bringing its total to over $3 million, which would shatter all previous WMO records.

The second-place tuna caught by angler Mark Hutchinson on the “Magic Moment” would gain an additional $140,509 to go along with its $131,968 in initial prize money. The two boats that tied for third in the tuna division would each gain an additional $47,190 and the remaining winners in the dolphin, wahoo and shark categories would each be awarded an additional $2,125.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.